Craig Waibel wasn’t surprised when he saw FIFA’s announcement that Seattle will host World Cup matches in 2026. Waibel, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and now manages scouting for the Sounders, said he’s watched Seattle’s soccer culture grow over the past few decades .
Ten years ago, he said he couldn’t imagine the World Cup in Seattle. Thursday afternoon, when that became a reality, Waibel said there was a moment of numbness as he reflected on soccer’s decades of growth. The emotion wasn’t disbelief, though, because “there was no logical reason that Seattle wouldn’t get it.”
“Seattle didn’t accidentally get to host,” said Waibel, the Sounders’ senior VP of soccer and sporting director. “This city deserves it for the culture and the soccer culture they’ve built here.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer echoed that excitement in the lead-up to the Sounders’ game on Saturday. He grew up in Seattle and started playing for the Sounders in 1980 before eventually moving on to coaching various Seattle-area teams.
Forward Jordan Morris reiterated that once more Friday when he said “the city deserves it.” He was born on Mercer Island and has played for the Sounders in all but one season of his professional career. And so did midfielder Cristian Roldan, who played for the University of Washington starting in 2013 and has been near Seattle ever since. The host city selection is representative of the sport’s progress in Seattle, Roldan said.
“For me, it was a no-brainer, but it’s great to see that FIFA actually released it and we’re getting a World Cup,” Roldan said.
The 2026 World Cup will be the first hosted by three different countries (US, Mexico and Canada) in 16 different cities. On the West Coast, other hosts include Vancouver, BC, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Seattle has hosted NCAA men’s Final Fours, All-Star Games for the NBA, WNBA and MLB and the Special Olympics USA Games in 2018. It also hosted the 1990 Goodwill Games. But the World Cup will mark the biggest sports event ever for the city.
“It’s going to be fantastic for our city,” Schmetzer said Friday. “Good news, good day yesterday.”
The announcement speaks to soccer’s growth in Seattle, multiple Sounders players and staff said. In 1994, the only other men’s World Cup to be played in the US, the city was not among the nine selected.
Waibel said he was a senior in high school during the 1994 World Cup and had to watch on TV since he couldn’t travel to Stanford, California — the nearest site — to watch in-person. Almost 30 years later, he thinks the Sounders fan base and the organization both contributed to the World Cup committee’s decision to select Seattle.
“The sustained support of the fan base, it’s pretty neat,” Waibel said. “It is a major factor, for sure, in why the World Cup committee found Seattle to be the right place.”
Roldan referenced the Sounders’ trophies and attendance numbers as tangible evidence of the sport’s growth. They had the largest ever crowd for a CONCACAF Champions League game — 68,741 — when they lifted the trophy at Lumen Field in May.
“That’s just a snippet of what the World Cup can be here and we’re really excited,” Roldan said.
In addition to Seattle’s fan base, which Schmetzer said was a “motivated” one, the coach also credited city and state government officials who helped make the bid possible.
The US men’s national team hasn’t played in Seattle since 2016 because Lumen Field has turf, not natural grass (grass was added for the 2016 Copa America). Waibel said it’s “incredible” that the World Cup will be in Seattle when the national team doesn’t come to the city often, and hopes that will inspire US Soccer to play more games in Seattle in the future.
FIFA requires grass for tournament games, so Lumen Field will need to install natural grass for the summer 2026 matches.
Schmetzer and Waibel were both working when the news was released, the former preparing for Saturday’s contest against LAFC and the latter scouting players for the summer transfer window. Schmetzer said he saw Seattle’s name, took a brief moment to celebrate and then went back to work.
Moving forward, Schmetzer hopes the World Cup will help “push soccer around here a little higher.” It could benefit Major League Soccer if it helped spark a new TV deal that increased the league’s revenue, he said. He isn’t sure whether the World Cup will be enough for soccer to surpass the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL in popularity, but said it’ll certainly move the sport closer.
That happened during the 1994 World Cup, he said, since that tournament aligned closely with MLS’s launch. This time, in 2026, the World Cup will have Seattle as a host, too.
“The billions of eyeballs on Seattle … It’s going to be a big deal,” Schmetzer said.